Updated: 5:00pm PST on April 6
2009 In Review
The Sacramento River Cats entered the 2009 season looking to three-peat as Pacific Coast League champions. Up until the finals, it looked like the River Cats were going to do just that. Sacramento cruised to a division title with a league-best 86-57 record. After defeating Tacoma in the first round of the playoffs, Sacramento fell just short of their third-straight title when they were swept by the Memphis Redbirds.
The River Cats' parent club may have trouble scoring runs in 2010, but that shouldn't be a problem for Sacramento, at least until their heavy hitters are promoted to the big leagues. Sacramento will boast one of the most lethal 3-4-5 combinations of any line-up in the minor leagues, with sluggers Michael Taylor, Chris Carter and Dallas McPherson making up the middle of the line-up. Taylor is a threat to put up a 20-20 season every year, while Carter and McPherson each could go for 30 homeruns if they are in Sacramento long enough to get the necessary at-bats to reach those totals.
Taylor hit .320 with 20 homers, 21 stolen bases and a 944 OPS last season for Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Carter won the Texas League MVP in 2009 and has hit 63 homers over the past two minor league seasons. He was voted MiLB.com's Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2009. McPherson led all of the minor leagues in homeruns in 2008 with 42, his last full season (he missed the 2009 season with a back injury), and he has 150 homeruns in 608 minor league games over his career.
In addition to that trio, the River Cats will have power from outfielders Matt Carson and Corey Brown and catcher Landon Powell. Carson led the River Cats in homeruns in 2009 with 25, while Brown had 31 homeruns in 2008 before injuries limited him to only nine homeruns in 66 games for Double-A Midland last season. Powell spent all of the 2009 season in the major leagues and he had seven homeruns in only 140 at-bats. Powell has had double-digit homerun totals in each of his three full minor league seasons. Catcher Josh Donaldson might not be a big homerun hitter (he had nine in 124 games last season for Midland), but he is a top run producer, having driven-in 91 runs last season.
Patience will also be a hallmark of the River Cats' offense. Carter and Donaldson were among the league leaders in walks with 85 and 80, respectively, while infielders Eric Sogard (162 walks against 141 strike-outs in his career) and Steven Tolleson (.368 career OBP) are among the more patient hitters in the A's system. Brown and Powell have also been known to draw a good amount of walks throughout their careers.
Sacramento won't have as much team speed as it did last season when Cliff Pennington and Eric Patterson were at the top of the line-up, but utiiltyman Corey Wimberly, as well as outfielders Brown, Taylor and Carson are capable of 20+ steal seasons with enough playing time. Wimberly is the fastest of the group and he had 21 stolen bases last season despite playing only 70 games. He has 203 stolen bases in 428 career games.
The River Cats should have additional reinforcements on offense as the season progresses. Designated hitter Jack Cust, who has been the A's team leader in homeruns in each of the past three seasons, was designated for assignment by Oakland over the weekend. If he clears waivers, Cust will likely land in Sacramento until the A's need him again in the big leagues. Cust has 289 homeruns in 13 professional seasons and he hit 19 as a River Cat in 2005.
Infielder Adrian Cardenas and first baseman/outfielder Sean Doolittle are two of the A's top prospects and both are expected to join the River Cats once they have completed their rehabs from injuries. Cardenas has a hairline fracture in his thumb that he sustained during spring training and he is expected to miss the first three to five weeks of the season. He is a career .299 hitter with a .363 OBP. Doolittle is rehabbing a knee injury that required surgery for a torn patella tendon. The injury cost Doolittle much of the 2009 season. Before getting hurt, he had an 812 OPS in 28 games for Sacramento. Doolittle's timetable for a return isn't clear at the moment, as his rehab has had a number of starts and stops over the past year.
Sacramento has historically always had one of the better pitching staffs in the Pacific Coast League, and that should continue in 2010. The River Cats' staff will have a veteran look, with nearly all of the team's pitchers having at least some major league experience.
The staff will be headed by Vince Mazzaro, who was also the River Cats' Opening Day starter in 2009. Mazzaro had a 2.38 ERA in 10 outings with the River Cats last season before being promoted to the big leagues, where he spent the final three-plus months. He had a 5.32 ERA in 17 starts for Oakland. Mazzaro will be joined by veteran left-hander Lenny DiNardo, who has 94 major league appearances in his career, including 34 starts, as well as right-hander Clayton Mortensen and Kyle Middleton. Mortensen was acquired by the A's from St. Louis last season and he made six starts for Oakland at the tail-end of the 2009 campaign. Middleton was signed by the A's out of the independent American Association last season and he was a revelation for Double-A Midland, where he went 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA in nine starts. Graham Godfrey, who was a Texas League post-season All-Star in 2009, will round-out the Sacramento rotation. The right-hander went 11-8 with a 3.50 ERA in 28 starts for the Rockhounds last season and helped Midland win the Texas League crown. The right-hander has won league championships in each of his two seasons in the A's organization (he won with Stockton in 2008).
The rotation also figures to feature veteran Jason Jennings – the 2002 National League Rookie of the Year – at some point, as well as Trevor Cahill, who spent the entire 2009 season in the A's rotation, winning 10 games and throwing 178.2 innings. Cahill was in competition with Gio Gonzalez for the final spot in the A's rotation until the last day of spring training. He will begin the year on the disabled list, but could be with Sacramento in a month or so. Cahill has a career minor league ERA of 2.68 in 238.2 innings. Longtime major league veteran Brett Tomko, who pitched briefly for Sacramento last season, could also join the River Cats' rotation once he has completed his rehab from a nerve problem in his right elbow. One time top A's pitching prospect Mike Madsen is also a candidate to join the Sacramento rotation at some point this season. Madsen is currently at extended spring training, where he is rehabbing an elbow injury that has sidetracked him the past two seasons.
The River Cats' bullpen will also have a veteran feel. Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco will have plenty of experienced arms to choose from in the late innings. Right-hander Marcus McBeth has returned to the A's organization as a minor league free agent signee after being traded away in 2007. McBeth, who was the A's fourth round pick in 2001, saved 31 games for Midland and Sacramento in 2006 and another 17 games for Sacramento and Triple-A Louisville in 2007. McBeth was a set-up man in 2009 for Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.69 ERA in 67 games. He has 23 games of experience at the major league level.
Right-hander Fernando Hernandez also signed with the A's during the off-season as a minor league free agent. He has spent his entire minor league career with the Chicago White Sox organization, but Hernandez's only major league experience came with the A's in 2008 when he made three appearances out of the Oakland bullpen. Hernandez was the A's Rule 5 pick that season, but he was returned to Chicago after those three relief appearances. He saved 20 games last year for the White Sox's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.
Hard-throwing right-handers Sam Demel and Henry Rodriguez both were used in closing situations for the River Cats last season. Demel saved three games for Sacramento and 11 for Midland earlier in the season. He has 36 saves in two-plus minor league seasons. Rodriguez had four saves for Sacramento last season, which was his first full year as a reliever after beginning his career in the starting rotation. Rodriguez, who can regularly hit 100 MPH on the radar gun, also made three relief appearances for the A's in September last year.
Left-hander Brad Kilby was one of the River Cats' most reliable relievers in 2009. In 45 games, Kilby posted a 2.13 ERA and he struck-out 77 in 63.1 innings. He also saved two games and held opposing batters to a .179 average. Kilby made 11 appearances for the A's last September and allowed only one earned run in 17 innings. He was among the final cuts for the A's in spring training.
Fellow southpaw Cedrick Bowers will bring experience and versatility to the River Cats' pitching staff, having both started and relieved in his career. Bowers was a reliever exclusively in 2009 and he posted a 1.93 ERA in 60.2 innings for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Bowers has 13 years of professional experience and has made five appearances at the big league level and has also pitched professionally in Japan.
Sacramento will be returning its entire coaching staff from the 2009 squad with manager Tony DeFrancesco heading the staff once again. DeFrancesco, who won his 1,000th game as a minor league manager last season, is entering his seventh season as the manager of the River Cats. In his previous six seasons, DeFrancesco has won three Pacific Coast League titles and five Southern Division titles. His career managerial record is 1.021-888.
Pitching coach Rick Rodriguez returns to Sacramento for a ninth season. During his tenure with Sacramento, Rodriguez has regularly developed pitchers who have gone onto successful major league careers, including Barry Zito, Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer, Aaron Harang, Mark Mulder and Huston Street.
Hitting coach Brian McArn has also been a longtime staple in Sacramento, having served in the position for six seasons. McArn has mentored a number of successful major league hitters, including Kurt Suzuki, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez, Jack Cust, Andre Ethier, Nick Swisher, Mark Teahen and John Baker.
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